Tony

We were late on Monday for some random reason. When we got there, Elder Banks was about to conclude testimony and prayer time.

Zuri took her seat on the circle–as usual. I went to my corner, briefly scanning the room.

Tony wasn’t there.

Figures. Well, this is–after all–the last place anybody would want to be at…

I plopped on my couch as usual; the old frame squeaked in protest under my weight.

“…and now let us turn each other and claim the power of intercessory prayer. Turn to a brother or sister next to you, and pray for each other for a few minutes.”

I was not alarmed. They had done this before many times. That day, however, Elder Banks was filling in for Zuri who had come late. He must have felt the spirit or something, because he walked up to me, and with an evangelist’s booming voice and expression addressed me, “Daughter. Please join us in prayer.”

“Uh?” I squeaked.

“Come. You can pray with…let’s see…is anyone in need of a partner?”

The silence was eloquent.

Zuri was about to speak up when Martha and Horace—the oldest people in the room—said they wouldn’t mind having a third.

No. No. No. No. No…

Diversion saved me, however. It came in the way of a new arrival dressed in an elegant business suit.

What the–

“Why, welcome brother!” Elder Banks said stepping forward to greet him with a hand shake.

At first I didn’t recognize the newcomer. But then I realized that it was Tony walking in and taking a seat next to me on the vile, pink, couch. He flashed a smile at me and greeted me cordially.

“Hey, kiddo”

There was a murmur of surprise when it was understood that I, the mocker, had been the one to invite the new arrival.

I suppose that—being the good Christians that they were—they’d come to underestimate the power of the God they served, otherwise how could they fail to remember that He can use any situation and any person—even me—for his good pleasure?

For I’m sure it was his pleasure that Tony should be drawn to know and serve him.

* * *

Let me fast-forward fifteen years.

Tony has since then finished college and attended the seminary. He works as a Chaplain in the same hospital I work at and spends much of his free time at a youth shelter mentoring neglected youth to steer them away from a life of addiction.

Furthermore, he also bears the title “Doctor” as he recently earned his PhD—He’s even published two books.

I didn’t know what Tony would eventually become when I first saw him crying his heart out in church–not even that day he arrived at the Study Group. I didn’t even imagine either that Tony would be the person who would help me believe in the power for prayer again.

Life is funny like that. God certainly has a knack for surprising you.

I certainly was surprised by him the first day Tony went to the Bible study group.

 

part 13 of If You Only Knew

Yes It Matters

I didn’t see that guy again until maybe some three weeks later.

I was sitting in the back, sketching on my binder, when he came in and sat on the pew across the aisle from mine. The same one he’d been at that first time. When he caught me looking curiously at him through the gloom he got up and took a seat next to me.

“Tony. You?”

I stupidly blurted out my real name, “Tanya”

“Nice to meet you, Tanya,” he said chuckling softly.

He looked younger when he smiled. I now estimated him to be no more than twenty-one. Somehow, I had the feeling that I’d seen or known him before–did he remind me of my older brother? I took his hand and shook it. “Nice to meet you too”

“Why are you sitting here—all the way at the back?”

I bristled, “Why are you sitting here?”

“I don’t know anybody.”

“Same here,” I lied

We didn’t talk for a while. As the service went on I got used to having another person sitting next to me, so I sat back on my usual spectator attitude. Tony, however, was an active participant. He sang when they sang, kneeled when they kneeled. He didn’t cry like before, though, which was a relief.

“Tanya” he suddenly whispered as the pastor rose to give his sermon, “do you know of any Bible studies or catechism or classes or whatever to become baptized?”

I was in a spot. How would I know what Zuri’s church did?

“I don’t know.”

“Well aren’t you baptized?”

“No. This isn’t even my church”

“Oh.” He looked decidedly disappointed, “Nevermind, then.”

I thought about what I said next for a full fifteen minutes. Should I? Should I not? Oh well.

“There’s a Small Groups study here on Monday nights… If you are interested. The people there can answer your questions.”

“Monday? What time?”

“Six”

“No what time it ends?”

“Around eight. They have food afterwards”

“Count me in, then”

When the church lights flickered on at the end of the service, we shook hands again.

“Will you be there?”

I shrugged, thinking of my situation, “Does it matter?”

“Well I want to make sure I know at least somebody.”

“Yeah. I’ll be there,” I said, pondering the real question of how could I not be there?

He saluted me as he turned to go, “See you then.”

 

part 12 of If You Only Knew

On the Couch

Monday and Wednesday evenings found me in Zuri’s car on my way to her church for Small Groups and Prayer Warriors.

The Small Groups meeting was held in the church’s Community Services Center. The first day I ever went I was welcomed and was promptly given a Bible. I was invited to take a seat.

I did so in style, plopping into an old dusty-looking loveseat of a vile pink color. For good measure I put my feet up to keep people from sitting next to me. They tried to strike up conversation, but as I was not encouraging it, they gave up.

Ha, ha.

When the study began, I was invited to sit in the circle of plastic chairs with them. I refused as civilly as I could. Zuri did not glare at me as Mara would have done. She placidly took her seat.

I did what was agreed: I sat, I listened. Zuri led the testimonies and prayer time. I didn’t kneel. I was angry at God, and told him so in my prayer—if it could be called a prayer.

A man with a balding head led the Bible study and discussion.

Yeah, Yeah. John 3:16. Everyone knows about that…

After the Bible study there were refreshments. Everyone seemed to brighten up. I saw coffee, and pastries and sandwiches and soup and fruit. I was not taken in, however. I remained where I was and watched everyone chat and stuff their faces. I hated them.

God.

Church people.

I knew what they could do. I was not taken in by their nice appearance.

8:30 came at last, time for me to go back home. I didn’t immediately spot Zuri, until I saw her praying with two other people in a quiet corner of the room. Suddenly I was incredibly exasperated. I had liked Zuri quite well before she found out my secret. Of all my mom’s friends she was the only one who was not toxic. She was kind, and she knew how to treat everything naturally from migraines to menstrual cramps. Every Christmas she gave each of us a small gift. She had taught me how to pay the piano years ago, and though I had stopped playing, I still enjoyed falling asleep to her Bach many a rainy afternoons.

Now I hated her with an intensity that was almost scary in my emotion-parched life. But what could I do? I’d approached God with a business proposition—what I got in the end was outright blackmail.

And I was trapped.

 

part 7 of If You Only Knew